Where Does the Time Go? You Can Find Out, if You Dare
Finding time is hard. I often think about all the things I would do if I could just find the time.
But really, what a crazy thing that is to say. Find the time? Where should I look? Did I hide it in the bushes outside the White House? Can I find it on Aisle 10 at Whole Foods next to the biodegradable toilet paper?
I’ve let this question bounce around in my head for the last few months, and I think I figured out where the time went to hide. Let me explain with a small but painful story.
I often work from my home office. One day, my wife asked me how much time I spent sitting at my desk “half working.” What is half-working? What does that mean? I sat there, super-offended. I was doing serious work. Sketching, recording, writing, planning. None of that could be called half-working.
Of course, I spent some time half-working while checking my Twitter feed and reading ESPN, but surely that didn’t add up to too much. Still, given the serious accusation, I decided it was time to prove that I was not wasting much time. I needed an easy way to measure how I was spending my working time. Since almost everything I do was on the computer, it was the best place to start.
I installed Rescue Time, a program to automatically track everything I did while on the computer. Once installed, it monitors the programs you use and even the time you spend on specific websites. You can also label each activity based on productivity, which I did.
Almost immediately, I found myself sneaking around the measurement by using my phone when I was “working” to check Instagram or whatever other apps I couldn’t resist. I put an end to that after I reread Jake Knapp’s post on how to make your iPhone distraction-free (John Zeratsky wrote one for Android) and plugged that time hole.
Then, I let Rescue Time do its thing. I tried not to change much about how I spent my time because I wanted to get a realistic baseline. After letting it track my time for the month of May, I opened the report.
I have a hard time typing what comes next: I spent 45 hours and 38 minutes on things I’d labeled unproductive. After I carefully reviewed all the inputs for errors and found none, I pulled out my trusty calculator and did some painful math: It was two and a half hours per working day in May.
My wife was right. And the report didn’t even capture all the time it takes to switch from half-working to real working.
It was a bad day.
After the appropriate amount of time beating up on myself, I realized that I had found some time. A lot of time, in fact. The best part was the discussion that followed about how to use that time. This process is the same as the one I recommend for the values-driven budgeting of money. Yes, exploring the gap between what you say is important to you and how you actually spend your time and money can be painful. But it’s also part of the process of being a human who wants to improve.
So, here’s a suggestion: Go on your own hunt for time. Honestly measure how you spend it, and then compare that to how you want to spend it. Workers who are not deskbound can track it via pen and paper if need be.
The good news is you’ll almost certainly be able to say that at least you weren’t as bad as me. Then, you can move to the valuable activity of reallocating your time.
Be gentle with yourself. You will find gaps, for sure. But those gaps represent opportunities that won’t exist if you don’t try to find the time.